• Tim Mathis

I Hope I Was Wrong About Eternal Damnation and how I feel about that.



At the end of 2021, a moment that very few people had been consciously waiting for arrived.


That was the moment when I released my second book: I Hope I Was Wrong About Eternal Damnation, which was actually an old book, significantly revised.


The book is the culmination of at least five years of hard work, starting when I was in my late 20s. It went through multiple iterations, and occupied almost all of my writing energy in 2021. It is also a total departure from my other book, The Dirtbag's Guide to Life. My feelings about the book have always been thoroughly mixed because it's a memoir about a period of life that was even more unpleasant than junior high school.


More than a decade prior to releasing the book in its latest version, I made the most dramatic decision of my life when I abruptly left the Christian faith after years of centering my existence on religion, while enmeshed in the process of becoming an Episcopal priest. It thoroughly screwed up my life and pissed off my family and friends, but across the long term it also allowed me to remake my life in a much healthier mould.


If you've never been a religious person, it might be hard to picture what leaving behind faith actually means. Religion isn't just a belief system or church on Sundays - especially for someone like me, who spent years studying theology and working in ministry. Faith provided my daily structure, my worldview, my sense of right and wrong, my career path and my means of making an income, and church was the place where I maintained almost all of my social relationships. Leaving all of that behind wasn't simple.


Most people who leave faith extract themselves slowly and drift out quietly, but my situation was complicated. It felt like religion was actively ruining my life, so I decided to tear it all down with one act. I decided to turn the religious memoir I'd been writing into a book about why I was leaving, and released it into the world - initially for free on a blog and then through self-publishing - as a public announcement. I wanted to be fair to the religious community, but I also wanted it to be definitive. I'd made the decision to burn bridges and get on with the process of building a new life, and I did.


I called the book I Hope I Was Wrong About Eternal Damnation. I'm proud of that title, and I hoped some people would be able to relate to my experiences, but my goal wasn't to create a best seller. I invited my friends and family to read it, but I didn't do much promotion beyond that because it was excruciating to talk about the process that I was going through, and I didn't want to have more conversations about leaving religion than I needed to. It did gain some local readership and sold a few hundred copies via word of mouth and a few bursts of Facebook posting, but it wasn't really a polished product when I released it. After about a year of allowing the book to trickle through my social circle and facilitate an early midlife crisis, I let it recede into the dark corners of the internet. Every so often someone stumbled across it, but it was a rare occurrence. To the day of its re-release, I rarely even told friends that I wrote the book, because talking about it brought up too much baggage.


But during 2021 I decided to revisit the project. I took down the original book, and released an extensively revised version in its place.


The final story includes a lot of the original text in order to stay true to the emotions that I was feeling while I was making the decision to leave. It tells the same story about how I was converted as a teenager, how I tried to make myself into an evangelical minister but realized that it was a terrible fit, how I recreated myself as a progressive Christian during grad school in New Zealand, and then how my experiences of working in the Church eventually ate my soul and made me finally realize that I needed to cut ties with religious faith. It was a very personal story. The original version was largely written as therapy, to process my decision, and to have a place where I could be honest when for most of my life I had felt like I needed to put on airs. In the new version, I retooled my story with the goal of making it useful.


I'd felt for years that I should revisit the project. Religion in America has always had its issues, but after the great Trumpian shift of 2015, the disconnect between truth, goodness, and most American religion grew acutely obvious. The issues that drove me out of the church intensified, and a lot of people started going through a process of disillusionment and departure similar to my own. I suspected that there was something in my story that would be useful for these types of people, because a lot of readers of the original book told me that they found the memoir cathartic. So, in the midst of the chaos of 2020, I finally decided to go back to the project. I spent 2021 rewriting it with the goal of telling a story about why people become religious, why religion can make life better in some situations, why it also causes so many problems, and why it's so difficult to leave. The new version is not aimed at arguing that people need to leave behind their faith, but I did want to reassure people who are leaving that they are making a healthy and reasonable decision.


I have moved on from a lot of the issues that I was dealing with when I put out the original version, but I will always carry plenty of baggage around my religious history. Some days this project felt like editing an old, humiliating journal for general readership. But I spent a year reworking it, I got some dirtbag editorial input from a few really brilliant beta readers, and I smoothed out a lot of the rough edges. It still has some of the quirks you'd expect from an independently published book written by a guy in his late 20s in the midst of a spiritual crisis, but I am happy about where it is. I think it stands up next to my other book, The Dirtbag's Guide to Life, and I feel happy about the way I've presented my story. For people trying to understand either their own experiences, or the reasons that people get sucked in to religion, I think there's a lot there that's funny and honest and useful.


I still hope I was wrong about eternal damnation, but I also hope you'll check out my book I Hope I Was Wrong About Eternal Damnation.

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